With major competitors charging as much as $150-$200 for adjustable carbon fiber trekking poles, you might assume that the $95 Alpkit Carbonlite poles would be second rate. However, you’d be wrong; these poles are very light (6.6 ounces), have comfortable grips and straps, extend to a full 140 centimeters, and are the stiffest in their class. Are these the ultimate value in carbon fiber trekking poles?
- Among the stiffest trekking poles we’ve reviewed
- Very light (6.6 oz) for a pole this stiff and with this maximum length (140 cm)
- Solid locking mechanisms never slip
- Comfortable grips and straps
- Reasonably priced at $95
What’s Not So Good
- Grips became unglued in the field and couldn’t be field-repaired (replaced with one-piece grips in new models, eliminating the problem)
- Not as durable against sharp side impacts as aluminum poles
- The poles are currently unavailable but should be back on the market in September ’06
|2006 Alpkit Carbonlite trekking poles|
|EVA foam with strap (synthetic cork grips are optional)|
Weight Per Pole
|6.6 oz (187 g) measured weight; manufacturer’s specification 6.9 oz (195 g)|
|26.5 – 55 in (67 – 140 cm)|
|Yes – diameter: 2.2 in (6 cm), weight: 0.4 oz (10 g)|
|Press fit/Life Link or Black Diamond|
|£50 (approx $95)|
The Alpkit Carbonlite is the first trekking pole brought to market by Alpkit, a web-based, direct-only manufacturer from the United Kingdom. Recent increases in the cost of carbon fiber have caused Alpkit to temporarily pull their Carbonlite poles from the market but they plan to reintroduce a slightly-modified design in September 2006.
With top shafts that measure a whopping 11/16 inches (17 mm), the Carbonlite are some of the stiffest adjustable trekking poles we’ve reviewed.
The Carbonlite poles feature oversized carbon fiber shafts; the upper shaft measures a full 11/16 inches. Each of the sections are between 1/16 and 1/8 inch (1.5 and 3.0 mm) wider than comparable Komperdell Carbon Duolock C3 or Leki Carbon Ergometric models. While the upper sections of the poles I reviewed are made of woven carbon fiber and the lower sections are spun carbon fiber, all sections will be spun carbon fiber on the reintroduced poles.
The internal locking mechanisms use metal threads with plastic expanders. They locked consistently and never slipped in the field during testing.
The EVA foam grips with plastic top are medium-sized and very comfortable. The adjustable straps are also very comfortable and never rubbed my hands.
The grips are EVA foam which is glued to a plastic base with a plastic cap at the top. The grips are medium-sized and are comfortable for a wide range of hand sizes. The adjustable straps are thin foam with a nylon backing and are sewn around the edges, giving them a finished look. The straps are very comfortable with no rough seams to come in contact with the hand.
In reintroduced models the grips will be one-piece EVA foam models which, according to Alpkit, will be lighter weight. This design should also alleviate a durability issue I encountered (explained below).
The tungsten carbide tips grip well in all situations and accept press-fit baskets such as those from Black Diamond and Life-Link.
The tips are tungsten carbide flextips that allow for some give on the trail and will break away in extreme conditions, saving the carbon fiber shafts. The metal tips are more rounded than those offered from other manufacturers; while I found the tips to grip well in all conditions including slippery Washington rock, there may be situations where sharper tips are slightly better.
Alpkit includes 2.2-inch trekking baskets with their poles. The poles also accept any press-fit baskets such as those offered by Black Diamond and Life-Link. I found Black Diamond snow baskets to work very well when snowshoeing with the Carbonlite poles. Changing the baskets is not as easy as with Leki-style screw-on models but was easily done in the field and they never came off accidentally.
The Alpkit Carbonlite poles adjust from 67 to 140 centimeters, making them usable by all but the tallest hikers. They will also work with virtually any shelter that requires trekking poles.
Compatibility With Trekking Pole Shelters
|Shelter type and pole length required||Usable with this shelter?|
|Gossamer Gear/Tarptent Squall Classic (42 in/107 cm)||Yes|
|Tarptent Virga 2 / Squall 2 and Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo / Europa (45 in/114 cm)||Yes|
|GoLite Trig 2 (48 in/123 cm)||Yes|
|MSR Missing Link (54 in/137 cm)||Yes|
At 6.6 ounces, the Alpkit Carbonlite poles aren’t the lightest adjustable carbon fiber poles on the market, but they are close (the lightest are Komperdell C3 Duolock Women at 1 ounce lighter). But for the extra weight, they offer a full 140 centimeter length and are the stiffest adjustable poles we tested. If you are looking for maximum stiffness and enough length for folks well over six feet, the Carbonlite poles are a great package.
Because much of the weight is centered in the upper shafts, grips, and straps, these poles swing easily and make for quick placements on the trail. The wrist straps are also helpful in keeping the Alpkit poles under control when moving quickly or through technical terrain.
The Carbonlite poles were used and abused over several months including this climb of Mount Rainier.
While the Carbonlite poles scored a perfect 5.0 in stiffness, they also provide the comfortable vibration damping that makes carbon poles so enjoyable to use. They are silent on the trail and deaden the feel of sharp hits better than any aluminum pole.
During several months of heavy usage ranging from off trail hiking, to snowshoeing in icy conditions, to a climb of Mount Rainier, the Alpkit poles held up nicely – with two exceptions. First, the grips came unglued from their plastic bases and could not be field repaired. At home, it was an easy fix with super glue. Fortunately, the re-released poles due out in September ’06 will have one piece EVA foam grips that will avoid this gluing issue.
The Alpkit grips became unglued during a snowshoe trip but were easily repaired at home with super glue. The upcoming model will feature lighter one-piece grips that will eliminate this problem.
Another problem that arose with the Alpkit Carbonlite poles was due completely to user error and highlights a downside of all carbon poles – the fact that carbon shafts, while very strong and stiff for their weight, are susceptible to sharp side impacts.
While winter camping on Mount Hood, it rained for hours and hours and then froze. Oh YUK! The poles, which we had used as guy line anchors, were now frozen in several inches of ice. When using a snow shovel to dig them out, I hit the pole’s lower shaft, snapping it. I believe this would have happened with any carbon poles but aluminum shafts would probably not have broken. When using carbon fiber poles it’s important to realize their limits; sharp impacts or extreme leverage situations (such as placing the pole between talus slabs) are the weakness of this material.
This break should not be considered a weakness specific to Alpkit Carbonlite poles – these poles are bomber and treated with reasonable care, will last many seasons. They survived numerous falls and even jumps off small cliffs without any problems – using the poles as intended should yield no durability issues.
A user-error break caused by hitting the shaft with an aluminum shovel highlights a weakness inherent in carbon fiber as a shaft material that is not specific to Alpkit Carbonlite poles.
At $95, the Alpkit Carbonlite poles are the least expensive poles in their class, coming in $35-$105 cheaper than other adjustable carbon fiber poles. Although you save a lot of money, you still get very high quality poles. They are very stiff, well constructed, and at 6.6 ounces, among the lightest poles you can buy. Because of manufacturer-direct pricing, the Alpkit poles are the best deal going in carbon fiber adjustable trekking poles.
The overall package of light weight, quality construction, comfortable grips, good vibration damping, and shaft stiffness puts the Alpkit Carbonlite poles among the best in their class. The fact that they cost less than $100 makes them a standout.
Recommendations for Improvement
My only recommendation would be to swap out the two piece plastic/EVA grips for lighter and more reliable EVA-only models, but this will already be done in the updated poles to be released in September 2006. I’m also curious to see the effect of the new carbon uppers on pole weight and stiffness.